Raising a wild child: Steven Rinella, aka the MeatEater, writes book on engaging kids with nature
Thu., April 14, 2022
BILLINGS – After roaming the world for decades in search of outdoor adventures to share, Steven Rinella said there’s no place he would rather be than fishing with his three children.
“My kids catching a fish is better than me catching 10 of them,” he said.
He also ranks the youth deer season, when only youngsters are allowed to hunt in Montana, and the Wisconsin youth turkey season as top activities with his children.
“If I’m with my kids and we’re outside, I’m doing what I love, and I’m doing the best possible thing to serve and honor my family,” he said. “It’s nothing but enjoyable.”
Rinella is best known for his Netflix series about all things hunting, fishing and cooking of game and fish. Called “MeatEater,” the show is in its 10th season. The program’s title comes from his 2006 book, “Meat Eater, Adventures From the Life of an American Hunter.”
Now 48 years old and the father of three children – ages 7, 9 and 11 – Rinella has written a book titled “Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature.”
He said the book is aimed at helping raise the next generation of conservationists. He’s also offering “some tools” to help parents engage their children in the natural world. It would be nice, he added, if in 50 years there are people who feel like they have a stake in natural resources.
Coming out after two years of pandemic restrictions, the book is also timely, as Rinella noted in his book’s introduction: “While we’re probably years away from understanding just how much the pandemic changed us, I think it’s safe to say this much so far: The pandemic has reinforced our love of nature, and it has revealed our need for the knowledge, skill set, and equipment necessary to experience it in a safe and sustainable way.”
For his children, adventure is as close as turning over a rock to see what’s underneath, or when Rinella threw a frozen hunk of deer fat onto the house roof to marvel at the magpies’ ability to assess the possible danger the family dog posed.
“After the fat incident, however, the kids discussed magpies with a far greater level of intimacy and knowledge,” Rinella wrote.
Rinella will discuss the book on May 3 at the Alberta Bair Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $57, $42 and $25. Rinella will be joined onstage by members of his crew, including Janis “The Latvian Eagle” Putelis; Ryan Callaghan; trivia master Spencer Neuharth; Brody Henderson; Seth “The Flip Flop Flesher” Morris; and Chester the Divestor.
According to the Alberta Bair, “They’ll talk wild game, hunting, fishing, parenting, and lessons learned from being raised in the woods and mountains. The night will close with a trivia contest and lots of great prizes. Every ticket holder will walk away with a signed copy of Steve’s new book.”
Three years ago Rinella moved his family to Bozeman and began expanding the MeatEater brand. The company employs more than 100 people around the United States.
Rinella lived in Montana before, attending graduate school at the University of Montana in 1996 and then moved from Miles City to Bozeman and Missoula over the course of 11 years.
He picked Bozeman as a new home base because that was where several of his crew already lived. As his brand has grown, MeatEater began creating direct to consumer digital content, podcasts and has fostered partnerships with First Lite, which manufactures hunting clothing, FHF Gear (Fish, Hunt, Fight) that builds modular equipment like binocular harnesses and Phelps Game Calls.
Rinella said the partnerships make sense because he appreciates innovative gear that works well. His manufacturing partners, in return, like the exposure MeatEater gives their products.
“There’s no brand more trusted in the outdoors space than MeatEater and no one in the hunting community who has more power to showcase quality products than Steve and the rest of the MeatEater crew,” game call founder Jason Phelps said in a news release.
The partnerships also help MeatEater avoid the “advertising model” to finance the company.
“We were going into this thing in a more naturally integrated way,” he said. “We are working with companies and people we admire. It just seemed very obvious and easy.”
The steady work of running an outdoor company, which Rinella said he enjoys, has paid off. He is a well-known, multimedia personality worth an estimated $4 million. To keep feeding the MeatEater machine means he is on the road about 100 days a year either filming for the television series or attending fundraising events as a guest speaker.
“I’ve always had a lot of wanderlust,” he said.
Out of all the trips he’s taken to remote locations – from Alaska and Mexico to Bolivia and New Zealand – the one place that’s captured his imagination the most is South America. While there, traveling by boat with Indigenous people, he explored their ancestral hunting and fishing grounds.
“You’re hanging out with people whose knowledge base about their home area surpasses anything that you’ll ever achieve as a modern American, you’re just not going to get there,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable. You imagine that you are with people who hunt and fish a couple hundred days a year, but they usually stay within a 50-mile radius of their village. They don’t miss anything. And it’s such a rich landscape.
“You’re also getting a perspective into our ancestral hunter gatherers, how they approached their lives and how they approached the land. It’s not that anymore, but you can glimpse it.”
Never one able to sit on the beach and watch the waves crash ashore, Rinella said he personally enjoys activities that are immersive, requiring him to shut out other thoughts and focus on what’s at hand. His latest engrossing activity is free diving and spear fishing.
Rinella’s wanderlust was nurtured in his home state of Michigan.
There he grew up squirrel hunting, trapping muskrats and having unfettered access to neighbors’ woods and a lake. Rinella worries that his children are missing out on a less structured childhood like he had.
“You lament just being able to roam around and get muddy and bloody outdoors, at least I’m able to deliver that for my kids, but it’s a lot more intentional now,” he said. “We have to set time and spend energy to make it happen.”
Initially, Rinella resisted his agent’s push about 12 years ago, when his wife first became pregnant, to write a book about helping parents be intentional about outdoor activities.
Until about a decade into his child-rearing years, he said, “I didn’t feel credentialed to write it for quite a while.
“By that point I had a lot of exposure to other parents and friends … and I better understood a lot of the anxieties people have about raising outdoor kids.”
Rinella writes in the first chapter of his book, titled “Thinking Native,” “If we want our kids to feel a true and pragmatic sense of stewardship for the environment, we need to let them relate to it as a peer, as something that they’re entwined with through symbiotic connections.”
He goes on to say, “… it’s vital that we teach our kids to recognize themselves as belonging to a living ecosystem. In other words, our kids need to understand that they are not above, outside, or apart from their physical environment – they are completely intertwined with it, and it with them.”
That connection can be built anywhere, Rinella writes, from a suburban backyard to a skyscraper’s balcony.
“The point is to remind yourself that nature surrounds you at all times. You are living amid nature. You are in it. You are of it.”
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